Bar owner lights up cigarette at health department to protest smoking law

SANDUSKY A local bar owner who lit a cigarette Monday inside the Erie County Health Department to p
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

A local bar owner who lit a cigarette Monday inside the Erie County Health Department to prove the state’s smoking ban lacks clarity got a clear message from health officials.

Paul Hauke Jr., 61, of Sandusky will become the first individual in Ohio to receive a written warning for violating the smoking ban, said Jay Carey, Ohio Department of Health spokesman.

Since Ohio voters approved the smoking ban in November 2006, only business owners, not individuals, have received written warnings or fines, Carey said.

Businesses receive a written warning for the first offense and increasing fines of $100, $500, $1,000 and $2,500 for subsequent violations. Individuals receive a warning letter and then a $100 fine for every violation thereafter.       

Hauke is going down both roads. As part owner of Sandusky watering holes Boze’s Bar and Lake Wilmer Inn, he’s awaiting two hearings for repeat smoking violations that allegedly occurred at those bars.

A nonsmoker, he said he lit up in the health department’s lobby to prove the smoking ban unfairly penalizes business owners because it fails to offer them any means to make patrons stop smoking.

Hauke pulled a similar stunt at the municipal building in Findlay two weeks ago.

The hearings for smoking-ban violators are “a joke,” Hauke said, adding that the ban itself has been poorly administered and its legal particulars are murky.  

“There are so many points that are screwed up, it isn’t even funny,” Hauke said.

On Monday, he realized how far health officials will go to enforce the ban. 

“I lit up a cigarette, and the lady told me to put it out or she’d call the police,” Hauke said. “I said, ‘go ahead and call them, because I ain’t putting it out.’”

Erie County health commissioner Pete Schade said Hauke was belligerent when asked to extinguish the butt.

“He continued to puff away,” Schade said, adding that Hauke pontificated on everything that was wrong with the smoking ban, Erie County and the state. 

Hauke also threatened to call a state hotline to file a complaint against Erie County Health Department for permitting a smoking violation -- his own, Schade said.

“That’s like driving drunk to the police station and then complaining that there’s a drunk driver on the road,” Schade said.

There were two women waiting in the health department lobby when Hauke started smoking, one of whom left as soon as the smoke hit the air. The other asked Hauke to extinguish the cigarette because she had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a progressive breathing disease often caused by cigarette smoking. 

“The reason I put it out is because a lady came in with a breathing apparatus,” Hauke said. “I didn’t want to hurt her health any. I put it out and went outside.”